Javier Bardem and Cruz need to stop playing Latinx roles - GulfToday

Javier Bardem and Cruz need to stop playing Latinx roles


Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz

Lola Méndez, The Independent

Married Spanish actors Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem have received Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Actor — and the recognition has left many Latinx actors feeling scorned. The European pair often accept Latinx roles that many feel should be played by Latinx actors. Cruz was nominated for the Spanish film Parallel Mother and Bardem was nominated for portraying Cuban Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos.

Bardem’s casting was widely criticized — many felt Arnaz should’ve been played by a Latinx, ideally Cuban, actor. Bardem responded by stating, “We should all start not allowing anybody to play Hamlet unless they were born in Denmark.” But it seems pretty clear to me that comparing Danish people to Latinx people is an ignorant false equivalency.

During a press conference following his Oscar nomination, the Spanish actor shared how he feels about being cast as Latinx characters. His tantrum was ripe with comments that, in my view, were simply neocolonial. “Let’s talk about Spanish minorities. How many Spanish characters are there in international cinema? None. There are Latin American characters. I know what I’m talking about when I talk about minorities. And we need to support minorities, but we also have to support those of us who are minorities as well, faced with representing other minorities,” Bardem said.The actor added that he’s never been offered a Spanish role. Perhaps he’s forgotten he and his wife both played Spaniards in Everybody Knows and Jamón, Jamón. They also co-starred in “international cinema” hit Vicky Cristina Barcelona, rightfully playing Spanish characters. Cruz was the first Spanish actress to be nominated and win an Academy Award when she took home the honor of Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for her performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Bardem’s comments are even more alarming given he’s positioning himself as a victim. He doesn’t seem to understand that Spain colonized the majority of Latin America, which led to at least 56 million Indigenous deaths across the region. That’s why Latinx people feel so strongly about the issue of true representation in film.  Cruz and Bardem are the descendants of Spaniards with European heritage who aren’t racial minorities. Yet it seems to me that Bardem is using false logic to claim that Spaniards are minorities in order to justify why he and Cruz continue to take roles many feel are better suited to Latinx actors.

Spanish actors can never fully grasp the Latinx experience or properly portray it onscreen the way an actor from the character’s nationality would. Yet, Bardem and Cruz are often cast as “Latin American characters.” Cruz played a Colombian psychologist in 355 and had Latina roles in Wasp Network and Loving Escobar. Similarly, Being the Ricardos is hardly the first time Bardem has taken a role which could have been played by a marginalised Latinx actor. He previously played Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls and Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in Loving Escobar. His character in Skyfall, Raoul Silva, is believed to be Brazilian. In The Roads Not Taken, Bardem plays a Mexican man and his daughter is played by Elle Fanning — another actor who has played marginalized characters despite being white.

Cruz and Bardem aren’t the only Spaniards who accept Latinx roles — Antonio Banderas, for example, is just as well-known for playing Latino characters in Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a shame, because these powerful Hollywood Spanish actors could be a part of a paradigm shift encouraging Latinx actors to take Latinx roles and imploring screenwriters to create roles for Spaniard characters.

Yet that’s not what they’ve been doing. While such castings are often criticized, Bardem’s recent remarks seem to attempt to justify Spanish actors playing Latinx roles. To me, that looks like contributing a neocolonial agenda. European actors can never represent Latinx people; instead, they represent their ancestors who slaughtered us.

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